2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell: first drive of hydrogen-powered sedan Page 2

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2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, Santa Barbara, CA, March 2017

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, Santa Barbara, CA, March 2017

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We can only assume the folks who had prepared the Clarity test cars had hammered them considerably, since several other journalists also noted sub-300-mile range indicators when full.

The Clarity didn't provide the surge of instant torque from a stop that any electric car delivers; its off-the-line performance isn't bad, but it's more measured.

Its fuel cell has to be fed more hydrogen to come up to full power, and the battery pack under the front seats that it uses to meet sudden power demands is just 1.7 kilowatt-hours, about the same size as the one in a conventional hybrid car.

After a couple of standing-start acceleration runs, our rough estimate for 0-to-60-mph acceleration was 9.2 seconds, slightly quicker than the Toyota Mirai we also tested.

That's on a par with some mass-market electric cars (though not, perhaps, mid-size luxury sedans at the Clarity's price of more than $50,000).

2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, 2016 Toyota Mirai at hydrogen fueling station, Fountain Valley, CA

2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, 2016 Toyota Mirai at hydrogen fueling station, Fountain Valley, CA

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The Clarity Fuel Cell can be leased for $369 a month with $2,500 down by qualified residents who live or work near one of the 12 Honda dealerships designated to sell the Clarity Fuel Cell: six in Southern California, five in the Bay Area, and one in the state capital of Sacramento.

The 20,000-mile-a-year lease comes with "up to $15,000" of free hydrogen, 21 days of Avis Luxury Rental car rentals (within the state of California), and 24/7 roadside assistance.

The cost of hydrogen is an interesting question, though: our top-off of 1.2 kg of True Zero hydrogen fuel cost $20.46 for 66 miles of added range indicated.

That doesn't pencil out against even a 25-mpg sedan running on gasoline at $4 a gallon, let alone a 56-mpg Toyota Prius Two Eco, one of the most efficient non-plug-in cars on the market this year.

As for electric cars charged at home, costs per mile are likely lower yet.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, Santa Barbara, CA, March 2017

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, Santa Barbara, CA, March 2017

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Still, it's early days for hydrogen vehicles and Honda seems upbeat about selling the small number of Clarity Fuel Cell sedans they'll need to comply with California zero-emission vehicle rules. (Toyota sold roughly 1,000 Mirai sedans last year.)

As noted, we liked our time in the Clarity.

It's got better power than the hydrogen Tucson, which we found worrisomely lacking in acceleration at highway speeds, and it's more refined and pleasant inside than the Toyota Mirai.

WATCH THIS: Honda Clarity Fuel Cell marketing theme: thinking about tomorrow

For buyers who don't mind confining all their driving to parts of California, it's another zero-emission alternative.

And with a three-year lease and heavily subsidized hydrogen fuel, it could provide a green alternative for lessees who can't easily charge an electric car at home or at work.

The marketing, however, with floating childrens' heads over a 40-year-old Fleetwood Mac song ... that, we still find a little creepy.

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